The ABC Method to Answering Interview Questions

One of the most common interview pitfalls is rambling. After all, no matter how much you've practiced, you don't know the precise questions you'll be asked, so you're composing an answer on the spot. This can lead to disorganized answers and interviewees who don't know when to stop talking.

I've devised a simple mental framework that you can use in order to ensure that your answer is organized and thorough and has a clear endpoint.

It's as simple as ABC:

  • Answer the question that's asked.
  • Back it up with an example.
  • Connect it back to the position.

A: The first step sounds simple, but I've seen people screw it up. Even though you should have in mind the key messages you want to get across, you need to share them in such a way that addresses the substance of the question. Otherwise the interviewer is likely to repeat the original question, making you feel foolish.

B: Using an appropriate example strengthens your answer. Saying that you're comfortable leading a team of people is fine, but sharing a specific, memorable example of when you've done this before lends credibility to your claims. I suggest having at least a dozen stories you can draw on that you've practiced telling in a concise, compelling way.

C: Finally, bring it back to the position. An interview can easily slip into you talking about yourself, while it should be you talking about how you're a fit for the position. Don't make the interviewer do the work of connecting the dots between what you're saying and how it would help you in the job. Let them know you've already pictured what being in this role would entail — and help them picture you in it as well.

All together, here's what this might sound like:

"I believe one of my strengths is my ability to work under pressure. For example, when I worked on the student newspaper, I was often given assignments that required me to conduct interviews and write an article within 24 hours. The section editor would often give me the assignments that required the fastest turnaround because she knew I would get it done. I understand that this job will require turning out high quality reports, sometimes on short notice, and I feel confident that my ability to work under pressure will allow me to handle this aspect of the job well."